Some things seen and observed in yesterday’s matinee game against the Oilers.
All stats and graphics from Corsica, Hockey Viz, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com.
1. Kicking early
For the second game in a row, we’ve seen the Flyers working hard to shore up their first period issues. On Thursday, they cleaned up their passing and reduced turnovers. Yesterday, they fixed the whole first period.
To date, they’ve had some trouble establishing momentum in their first periods-- be it through inaccuracies, broken play, or inability to break past the neutral zone. But yesterday, the Flyers’ opening play was smooth and nearly seamless. Their momentum was helped along with the Malone penalty drawn at the three minute mark, sending the Flyers to their first power play of the afternoon. Giroux would score 36 seconds in, on just the second shot of the game, and they were off from there.
The Flyers held an adjusted CF% of 63.94 percent through the first period, keeping play held largely in the offensive zone. They also kept Edmonton relatively quiet, holding them to just seven shots on goal. It was a solid start to the game, even if they couldn’t quite hold onto it (but we’re not there yet).
2. Third line still middling
The Patrick line, though not dragging quite so much as they had in past games, but are still proving a bit volatile, in terms of performance. They looked solid early, showing some flash and connecting for a few quality opportunities. But the underlying numbers still leave some things to be desired. Last on the team in time on the ice, they averaged a 37.59 percent adjusted CF%. So the flashes have been nice, but they would be even nicer if they were able to sustain them, to convert. So we’re still looking for a bit more consistency.
But we can’t leave this section without offering snaps for Travis Konecny, who’s looked like a man on a mission for the whole of the season, with yesterday serving as no difference. His puck control was solid, if not fancy, and his breakaway chances have looked dangerous. And it seems, one would hope, only a matter of time before something comes of them.
3. First line force
One of the big topics of discussion heading into this game centered not even wholly around the Flyers, but rather around Connor McDavid. How dominant would he look? Who would he match up against? How would the Flyers shut him down, and could they?
The short answer, from the get go, is yes. The first line was leaned on heavily to do this work-- spending the greatest amount of time matched up against McDavid’s line-- and they didn’t disappoint. In 5:37 of ice time in the first period, McDavid was held to just one shot on the goal, and was kept relatively quiet through the duration of the game.
The key, Couturier noted post-game, was taking away his time and space. They weren’t trying to overcomplicate and beat him at his own game, but rather trying to limit his options and keep him from breaking out.
4. Lehtera Watch 2k17
And Lehtera Watch 2k17 continues. After a tough game on Thursday, Lehtera seemed to get back on track yesterday, and put up an impressive performance against the Oilers. His adjusted CF%-- having been the worst on the team against the Predators-- made a huge jump, averaging out at 58.82 percent over three periods, ranking him fourth among his teammates.
He also made an impressive play around the two minute mark of the second period. Sprung on a pass by Gudas, he made a break into the offensive zone, and, double covered, he was able to draw a slashing penalty, and still got a shot off. Nothing came of this shot, of course, but he would get on the board later in the game, picking up a secondary assist on the Simmonds goal.
On the whole, it was a good game for Lehtera, and a night and day difference from his first. And though we’re still waiting to see him even out, to see what his middle ground performance will look like, he put up a solid effort when it was sorely needed.
5. Mastering styles
After it’s all said and done, the Flyers have faced two tight checking games, and come out with split results. Thursday’s game against Nashville was one that the Flyers stood a good chance to win, if they had only found a way to convert on their chances, to make this tight checking style work for them. We came out of Thursday’s game frustrated, but yesterday they turned it around.
They showed flashes of the speed that has worked well in their favor, and used their endurance to their advantage, but on the whole, they worked to make the pacing of the game work in their favor. It was an even game-- with both teams putting up 24 shots, and the Flyers recording 1.8 expected goals to the Oilers’ 2.06-- but the Flyers were able to make their chances count for just a little bit more.
And this is good news. As both Couturier and Hakstol noted post game, these past two have felt very much like the types of game they’ll be facing in late March, when intensity is ratcheted up and playoff spots are on the line. Those are the types of games they have to figure out how to win, and they’re on the right track.
6. Second period slip
If the first period was the Flyers absolutely dominating play, the second period was them giving far too much away. Their possession numbers dipped, with their CF% dipping to 36.32 percent. After holding a distinct edge in the first period, they dropped to 1.19 expected goals, while allowing the Oilers to jump up to 1.5. After starting out strong in the first few minutes of the period, they allowed a steady decline of possession and momentum in the Oilers’ favor.
This, then, means that you could see the Maroon goal coming a mile away. In the sequence leading up to it, the Flyers had spent an extended period of time pinned in the defensive zone, and showed no sign of being able to break out. Stagnating in that end, it was only a matter of time before Edmonton got something on the board. If not Maroon, it would have been someone else.
7. Simmonds "back" with a vengeance
Poor Simmonds. He’s had a tough week. Between the unspecified upper body injury, and the mess that followed taking a stick to the face while on the bench on Thursday, he’s certainly taken a bit of a beating.
It would be easy to sit back and expect his playing to have flattened or otherwise suffered from all of this extra trouble faced this week, but then, you wouldn’t know Wayne Simmonds. Faced with all of the questions about his status, he spent the end of the week assuring everyone that he was fine. And he was sure to show it, in yesterday’s performance.
He drove play effectively for his line, sitting at sixth on the team with an adjusted CF% of 52.63 percent. And then there was the goal. On a masterful feed from Filppula, he notched his fourth game winning goal of the season, and showed no signs of fatigue. It was a stellar individual performance, and to pull back a bit, a performance effective in aiding the second line in getting back on track.
8. Do I dare. Disturb the universe?
By saying something nice about Andrew MacDonald? He had a good night. The threshold for this has been relatively low, but on the whole, he had a solid night. He led the team in blocked shots with six, and, in an admittedly strange turn of events, was able to draw a penalty from Connor McDavid. But his play on the Oilers’ final power play of the game was also notable. Blocking a shot early and clearly feeling the sting, he read the situation and opted not to come off and head to the bench. This proved to be the right call, as it left him in position to make a nice-- and much needed-- diving save, not long after.
But before anyone gets too mad, I'll also say that it was a really solid night for all of the defensemen, as everyone kept things relatively simple and stuck to their games. Provorov and Gudas were steady as ever. Hagg led the team in hits. Sanheim looked confident jumping in on the rush, and in his new place on PP2.
And Gostisbehere stripping McDavid of the puck like it was nothing? More of that please. Inject that straight into my veins.
9. A nod to Scott Laughton
Laughton had a big game yesterday, no ways around it. With Taylor Leier out and Matt Read in, Laughton kept the line on track, despite the small switch up. This was good news, as his line often found itself matched up against McDavid’s, expected to do the same shutdown work that the first had done. And Laughton, facing off against McDavid, did good work of keeping him contained and frustrating his efforts. Laughton would also be moved up to play alongside Couturier in the last few minutes of the game, with the lead on the line and the Oilers bringing offensive pressure. And they shut it down.
So this isn’t just a nod from me to Laughton for a job well done, but also from the organization as a whole. After working to redefine his role with the team, they’re also showing a great amount of faith in his defensive game, to send him out to shut down one of the most dynamic players in the game. And that’s not nothing.
10: The only damn thing I know
The narrative is dead, so long to the narrative. The Flyers found a way to shut down McDavid without playing Brandon Manning. It’s a narrative that we’ve heard ad nauseum-- that the two have beef and the only way to get at McDavid is to have Manning get under his skin-- and it’s one that has finally been dispelled. Through sound defensive play and shutdown work by the first and fourth lines, the Flyers were able to get the job done.
And this is a big move on the part of the coaching staff. We’ve been frustrated, to date, with their privileging of veteran presence over more dynamic skill. But yesterday, they broke that pattern. They sat Manning, and iced Travis Sanheim. They ditched the narrative and played the best available player. Imagine that.